Mainland media firms get head start on 3G with mobile TV

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 May, 2006, 12:00am

While China's telecom operators await Beijing's decision on 3G licences before they can roll out multimedia services, mainland media groups are getting a head start this month by launching mobile television services in Beijing and Shanghai using technologies such as digital mobile broadcasting (DMB), which require no state approval.

Shanghai Media Group (SMG) will collaborate with Shanghai Mobile to offer mobile TV services between 30 yuan and 50 yuan a month on handsets from Korean firms LG and Samsung. Beijing Broadcasting Corporation is following suit.

The emergence of mobile television in China is attracting firms such as British chip company Frontier Silicon, whose chief executive Anthony Sethill predicts mobile television based on the terrestrial digital mobile broadcasting standard (TDMB) - meaning they can show digital channels made available free from terrestrial broadcasters - will take off before 3G.

Demand for TDMB-enabled phones would create at least a US$66 million market for the chipset industry next year, Mr Sethill said, based on an add-on cost of US$33 per phone for the mobile television feature. He sees a TDMB mobile phone market of 2 million in China next year.

Globally, investment bank Credit Suisse predicts 15 per cent of handsets will have a mobile television function by 2009, creating a US$1 billion market for the chip industry, although these figures include competing standards in the US and Japan.

'3G still has limitation on bandwidth and is therefore not the solution for mobile TV,' Mr Sethill said. He also pointed out that while the next-generation of 3G - high speed data packet access (HSDPA) - was faster than the existing technology, it did not have the inherent advantage of a traditional point-to-multipoint network when broadcasting television streams.

Frontier Silicon has been developing chips for mobile digital TV since 2004. Credit Suisse forecast that there will be 10 million units of mobile digital TV phones sold this year, growing to 100 million by 2009.

To tap into this growing market, Frontier Silicon is planning to open two more technical and sales offices in Beijing and Shanghai next year, expanding from its base in Shenzhen. It will also begin designing chips in China, having previously limited that to its design centres in Cambridge and Dublin.

The firm is also working on a multi-standard mobile TV chip dubbed 'paradiso', which can support both the TDMB and DVB-H standard common in Europe. This will hit the market in early 2007.

Mr Sethill said China would have different standards for mobile TV and firms would make handsets supporting multiple broadcasting standards in the next 12 to 18 months.